Monday 26 November 2012

What Saturday Needs

Just finished reading The Encyclopedia of Classic Saturday Night Telly by Jack Kibble-White and Steve Williams
(Amazon link)

Great book, appealing to my nerdy needs for useless information and trivia.
A series of essays/comment about the programmes that occupied the Saturday Night TV schedules, covering everything from the Classic to the Codswallop, the Memorable to the Forgettable.
Seemingly, the high point of Classic Saturday Night Telly came in the mid-to-late 1970s/early 1980s.
The schedules were an endless stream of Talent Shows (should that be written as "Talent"?), Variety shows, drama series and inoffensive family based game shows.  The Saturday night schedules now are much the same covering all the same basic components.  But there is one thing missing from the entertainment smorgasbord served up on a Saturday - There is no Madhouse.
Daft sketches and puns, silly characters and corny jokes - now that is what you want on a Saturday evening (well, I do anyway).

Mention 'Madhouse' and one name is synonymous with the concept - Russ Abbot

Russ Abbot started as a drummer in comedy band The Black Abbots.  They released a couple of singles in the 1970s and signed with a major label in 1977, releasing a single live album before disbanding in 1980.
Russ Abbot had already appeared in Freddie Starrs Variety Madhouse in 1979, and in 1980 he got his own Madhouse.
This show allowed him to exploit his talent for silliness, producing a cavalcade of comedy characters (including: Cooperman (and Blunder Woman), Jimmy McJimmy, Barratt Holmes and Basildon Bond).
Assisted by a supporting cast including: Les Dennis, Dustin Gee, Susie Blake, Jeffrey Holland and Bella Emberg.

Of all the characters on show, the most memorable was Basildon Bond (he had letters after his name).

Point One: Much like Tommy Cooper, he just looks funny to start with
Point Two: The secretary in the sketches was named Miss Funnyfanny
Point Three: The Parody didn't end with the name, he also appeared in films with titles such as 'Dr Yes' and 'The Man With The Golden Labrador', and was usually fighting against his nemesis Luke Bakenanger (it's a silly name, but it makes me smile).

Luke Bakenanger: "Have you ever been caught by your adversaries?"
Basildon Bond: "I had a bit of trouble with some barbed wire once"

OK - it's not so funny when written down, but I promise it will raise a smile.

As with most Saturday Night Variety/Comedy shows of the time, there was always the musical number.  Either it would be a great pop star/group of the Day (Grace Kennedy?  Manhattan Transfer? Guys & Dolls? Gerard Kenny?), or would be a parody performed by the cast.
Russ Abbott's Madhouse went down the latter route and gave us songs by:
Julio Doubleglazius (inspiration for Steve Coogan's Toni Ferrino?), The Four Bottoms, The Neverly Brothers, Vince Prince (a generic Teddy Boy Rock n Roller performing "And Then She Kicked Me"), The Bleach Boys and The Spanners (below).

What Saturday Night needs is a TV show which is heavy on puns, daftness, bad impressions (I'm looking at you Les Dennis & Dustin Gee) and just plain silly characters.

So, please can we have a Madhouse on Saturday Night?
Second thoughts, what we'll probably end up with is Ant & Dec's Saturday Madhouse.
A programme helmed buy the two miniature Geordies, introducing an endless stream of celebrity non-entities trying to be funny.

The shows aren't available on DVD (at least, not legitimately anyway), but YouTube is a veritable treasure trove of Madhouse moments - if you're stuck for five minutes and fancy a giggle just type "Russ Abbot" into the search box - you (probably) won't be disappointed.

Monday 19 November 2012

The Search Continues ...

You join me at the end of my bi-annual search for a decent priced CD copy of Dexys Midnight Runners 1985 album 'Don't Stand Me Down'.
When originally released, it basically tanked.  It got no higher than number 22, spending just 6 weeks in the album chart - a considerably poor return for the amount of time and money it took to produce.
Following this failure, Dexys ended up providing the them for the sitcom Brush Strokes ("Because Of You").
Was recording a sitcom theme part of Kevin Rowland's artistic manifesto?
(It might've been - after all this is a man who wore a dress on stage in the name of art)

Standing in Our Price in 1985 with £5, I was torn between the Dexys album and 'Rum, Sodomy and The Lash' by The Pogues.  Shane MacGowan and co get my cash, and it was probably another 10 years before I actually heard 'Don't Stand Me Down'.

Later on, I (like everyone else) created a sales spike for record companies as I was dilligently replacing vinyl with "these new fangled CD things".
'Searching For The Young Soul Rebels' - bought
'Too-Rye-Ay' - bought
'Don't Stand Me Down' - nowhere to be seen

'Don't Stand Me Down' did get a CD release in 1997 and again in "Directors Cut" format in 2002.  I purchased neither of these because basically I'd forgotten about it and wasn't in "Dexys Mode" at the time.

"Don't Worry - Amazon will save you"
No it won't - the cheapest at the moment is £49.99, and, when it is available, it is pretty much always around that price.
"You could always download it"
Yes I could, probably from some dubious/questionable source but, hey isn't all music free nowadays? Besides, why would I download it - I want the physical product.  Now call me old fashioned, but the physical product is key.  It's part of the whole choosing/selecting/listening experience.
In a similar way, why would I got to The Louvre to see The Mona Lisa when I can see photographs of it on the internet?  It's the same principle (or it is in my head anyway).

And so the search continues - I'm hopeful (confident?) that one day I'll stumble across a copy at a Car Boot Sale, in a Charity Shop or at a Record Fair at a price which doesn't mean selling a kidney first.
Or perhaps (even more hopefully) the will be another CD release sometime in the future.  Perhaps it may be another Kevin Rowland "Directors Cut" ('Don't Stand Me Down' has the potential to become the Blade Runner of the music world).

To paraphrase an earlier Dexys song:
"I've been searching for the album, I've been searching everywhere, I can't find it anywhere, where have you hidden it?"

Dexys Midnight Runners - There, There My Dear

Last-Ditch Request: If anyone has a CD copy they don't want, I know where it will be given a good home

Saturday 17 November 2012

Sweet Sounds

The phrase The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal ( or NWOBHM) first appeared in print in Sounds in May 1979.
The music took its lead from the classic rock bands such as Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, plus other bands like Golden Eaaring and Montrose, added a bit of punk ethos/attitude and came up with a new tough sound that had Heavy Metal fans banging their heads and playing air guitar.
Bands to emerge from NWOBHM include: Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Saxon and Diamond Head.  Motorhead and Judas Priest, although being in existence before NWOBHM started, were also considered part of it.
If asked, my default response to NWOBHM is this track:

Trespass - One Of These Days

But I believe I have found another, unrecognised influence: Sweet

Yes, Sweet - the band responsible for throaway 1970's bubblegum pop like Co-Co, Poppa Joe and Alexander Graham Bell.  They did achieve a number 1 single with "Blockbuster" (a song which had basically the same riff as David Bowie's "The Jean Genie"), and perhaps they're most well known single was "Ballroom Blitz".
Despite being part of the Chinnichap production line, the band always provided a self-penned track for their B-Sides, and these were usually pretty heavy by comparison.
Listen to tracks like "Done Me Wrong All Right", "Rock And Roll Disgrace" or "Sweet F.A." and you can almost hear the DNA template for NWOBHM.

And here is Exhibit 2 - Promo Video for "Action" from 1975 - Brian Connolly has more than a passing look of Bruce Dickinson about him, especially when holding the mike with two hands and wailing into it.

By the way, have you heard the story (urban myth?) as to why every ceiling has a Sweet Spot?

Friday 16 November 2012

Right Said Fred

No, not the Deeply Dippy baldy brothers (and that bloke with the curly locks and the guitar).
This Bernard Cribbins 'novelty' song is a true, unadultered classic.  I'm surprised there haven't been more high profile cover versions of this monumental track.

But, what were they trying to move?
First thought is a Piano, especially when they talk about removing "them fings that hold the candles".
But does a piano have handles?  A portable piano perhaps - I've never seen one, but they might exist.
And then Fred suggests taking the feet off.  Do Pianos have feet? Yes, they do.  But the next line, they're taking the seat off.  So this is now a piano with handles and a built-in seat.  Not like any piano I've come across.
In the end, they end up wrecking the house trying to move whatever it is, and Charlie and his mate go home leaving Fred to do the cleaning up.

Is it important? Probably not, but I would like to know what they were moving.

The spoken part at the end is another one of those 'philosophy in songs' moments:

"I said to Charlie we'll just have to leave it standing on the landing that's all, 
You see the trouble with Fred is he's too hasty 
Now you never get nowhere if you're too hasty"